- Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad indicated that the Taliban has yet to fully cut ties with Al-Qaeda, stating that they have “taken some positive steps, but they have some distance still to go”.
In a congressional hearing on Tuesday, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, the United States’ special representative for Afghanistan, indicated that the Taliban has yet to fully cut ties with Al-Qaeda, stating that they have “taken some positive steps, but they have some distance still to go”.
The historic peace deal, which was conditionally signed between the United States and the Taliban in February 2020, paved the way for the gradual withdrawal of troops from the country, and was contingent upon a mutual agreement that commits the Taliban to not use Afghanistan as a haven for terrorists, which could threaten the U.S. or its allies in the region.
Ambassador Khalilzad, in his hearing in the House Oversight and Reform Committee’s National Security Subcommittee, stated that there is classified intelligence which indicates that there has been continuing contact between the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. David Helvey, the Assistant Secretary for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs, added that the Taliban are “not fully compliant” with respect to their commitments under the auspices of the peace agreement, stating that “we have work to be done there”.
The withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan is conditioned on the Taliban honouring their end of the bargain, and while President Trump vowed to reduce forces in the country to between 4000 and 5000 troops, Ambassador Khalilzad stated that the United States will assess whether the Taliban are honouring their commitments before making a decision. Interestingly, Ambassador Khalilzad stated that “this is not an agreement based on trust”, adding that the Taliban are cognisant of the fact that it would not be in their best interest to allow terrorist groups to operate in Afghanistan, “having learned their lesson from the past”.
New Jersey Democratic Representative Tom Malinowski asked whether that agreement would be violated if the Taliban worked with Al-Qaeda inside Pakistan, to which Khalilzad remarked that the agreement states that any cooperation with terrorist groups (regardless of geographical limitations) which would threaten the United States and its allies would be treated as a violation. However, Ambassador Khalilzad added that the Pakistani leadership has been “helpful” during the peace process, and that the Trump Administration remains optimistic that Afghanistan and Pakistan will continue to deepen their relations and cooperate on matters of regional peace and stability.
Ambassador Khalilzad was asked whether the coalition of the incumbent government and members of the Taliban would respect the rights of women, especially considering the Taliban’s record on misogynistic violence and women’s rights, to which he responded that while it is up to the government of Afghanistan, the issue “is of utmost importance to the United States”.
The recent surge in violence has marred the first-ever talks between the Taliban and the government in Doha, as Taliban fighters carried out a series of attacks on police checkposts in Southern Afghanistan, killing 28 police officials in the process. While the United States has called for a reduction in hostilities and a ceasefire, Rep. Malinowski accused Khalilzad of being “incredibly naive” to take the Taliban at their word, adding that “what you are selling us is not peace - it is a fairy tale to make us feel better about leaving Afghanistan”.